Dispatches from the Field: Bert Covert, June 2008

Dear Family and Friends:

Tung Ba Commune Banana flower Snake on the forest floor Goat dinner Family car. Bert waiting for the monkeys. Adult male Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. Grooming Our terrace in Saigon Bert with the Buddha

We returned to Hanoi last night after nearly three weeks in Ha Giang Province, where we are working on a conservation and behavioral ecology study on the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. This was my fifth trip to this province and I always enjoy my time here. We work out of Tung Ba Commune, which is beautiful this time of year with extensive rice paddies. Our field site, Khau Ca Forest, is about a three hour hike from the commune. Next to our camp there are quite a few bananas browing and a couple had beautiful banana flowers. We picked another and had a nice banana flower salad!

We spend quite a bit of time each day hiking through the forest collecting a range of information about both the animals and habitat. This is the onset of the rainy season, meaning the leeches are fairly common - so we do wear leech socks. In the picture of me waiting for monkeys, I am sporting a pair of these important fashion items. [If you'd like to know more about anti-leech socks, you can find out more - and see Bert's picture - at mosquitohammock.com!]

Khau Ca is the only place in the world that the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey can be seen on a regular basis. We estimate that at least 70 monkeys live in the forest presently and the population appears to be growing. I've attached a couple of pictures of these beautiful creatures - in one picture there are two adult females and one is grooming the other.

Grooming provides both hygiene (removing parasites and dirt) and social cohesion - grooming seems to be quite relaxing. I have also attached a picture of an adult male that clearly demonstrates the unusual nature of the face of this species.

Adult males are nearly twice as large as females (I estimate that males average 15-16kg and females 8-9kg). This makes these monkeys one of the larger arboreal mammals in the world. I have also included a picture of a snake (as a reminder that it is good to look at the ground on occasion trekking through the forest.

We work closely with the Forest Protection Department (FPD) of Ha Giang Province. This governmental agency is similar to the Department of the Interior in the USA. I hosted a party my last night in Khau Ca this past Thursday at the nearest ranger station. A young adult male goat was slaughtered and prepared for the evening - I've attached one picture of the party with Quyet (on the right - my close colleague and an extremely talented young biologist), Mr. Tue (in the middle - the FPD official that does a wonderful job overseeing our research), and me (on the left - but you probably could pick me out of the crowd). Well, the crowd is not pictured but there were 18 of us - a great time.

Finally, I have attached one picture of our drive home - titled "family car" and while cars are much more common today than just a couple of years ago, the 90cc motorbike is still the main mode of transportation.

A big change has occurred this year - people are wearing helmets. A national law went into effect on January 1 and the vast majority of folks you see on the road are wearing helmets. I've been told by some that children are exempt; other friends have told me that children are required to wear helmets.

Warm regards,

Bert